A Philadelphia monsignor tasked with investigating abuse claims became Friday the highest-ranking US church official to be convicted of covering up child sex allegations.
William Lynn, who was secretary of the archdiocese from 1994 to 2001, was found guilty of one count of child endangerment and acquitted of two other counts — one of conspiracy and a second charge of child endangerment.
“This monumental case, in many ways, will change the way business is done,” Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams said, after the jury returned its verdicts following 13 days of deliberations.
Lynn, 61, who took the witness stand for three days during his 10-week trial, was not charged with molesting children, but rather with covering up the crimes of priests who did.
He faces three and a half to seven years in prison, according to prosecutors.
In a move blasted by defense attorneys, Judge Teresa Sarmina ordered Lynn to be taken into custody immediately. His sentence is due to be announced on August 13.
The trial, the first in the United States involving a senior official in the Catholic Church, also centered on two other Philadelphia priests.
Asked if Lynn was being punished for the sins of the Church, his lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, replied with one word: “Yes.”
“His immediate reaction was one of disappointment but understanding,” Bergstrom said. “Because he recognizes this young man got abused.”
Reverend James Brennan, who was suspended from his duties as a priest, stood accused of attempting to rape a teenaged boy in the 1990’s. Defrocked priest Edward Avery pleaded guilty on the eve of trial. Avery was sentenced to between 2.5 and five years in prison.
The jury was hung over the charges dealing with Brennan, who said outside the courthouse: “I’m very tired. I’m very grateful.”
The foreman of the jury said the panel struggled to apply the law to Brennan’s case.
“We needed clarity on how to apply the evidence. We needed to learn how to apply the elements of the charges,” jury foreman Isa Logan said. “Every juror wanted justice. We just wanted to do what was right.”
Still, Logan said the trial, with its graphic testimony describing sexual abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese dating back to 1948, has not changed his view of the Church.
“I still have no negative thoughts of the Church,” Logan said. “I pray for the Church.”
Williams said he had not decided whether to pursue a new trial against Brennan.
Lynn was found not guilty of endangering Brennan’s accuser and not guilty of conspiring to endanger that accuser. He was found guilty of endangering Avery’s victim, but not guilty of conspiracy with regard to that victim.
“The jury’s decision is not a full reckoning, but the truth is now revealed,” said expert sex abuse trial lawyer Jeff Anderson.
“Until now, no top Catholic officials have been criminally convicted for child endangerment. It gives great hope and promise for a better future now that this precedent has been made and this truth has been revealed through the courage of so many.”
Victims’ groups hailed the verdict.
“It’s just a major, major step to acknowledge in court that someone in Lynn’s position can endanger a child,” said Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, an online library of Catholic sex abuse documents.
Many Roman Catholics in the United States still believe that priests are sexually abusing children, according to a report from a lay advisory group released last week by the nation’s bishops.
A decade after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a child protection charter, the National Review Board said that there has been a “striking improvement” in the way the Church deals with the abuse of minors by clergy.
But it acknowledged: “Despite solid evidence [to the contrary], many of the faithful believe that sexual abuse by clergy is occurring at high levels and is still being covered up by bishops.”
Williams, the district attorney, said his office remains willing to pursue sexual abuse cases against the church.
“I can’t even say how important it is for victims to report these crimes to law enforcement, not just to the institutions who may be culpable in the crime,” he said.